It was a Sunday morning when she tried to return the folder with the copy included. Golone wouldn’t have it, leaving the house in a hurry.
She might take advantage of Nubesta’s day off, as well, if Signor Stradella returned directly from whatever service his music attended while Despina napped after going to mass. Donatella trailed her aunt down small streets and across the square named for the closest church open to her faith even when she had none. For once she wished she wasn’t late. Santa Maria Maddalena was filled with music as sacred as its interior; a modest congregation settling amid its garlanded pillars and gilded moldings, nearer to heaven anticipated in the ceiling of the main altar. Her aunt looked for her to slide into their usual pew but Donatella’s skirt didn’t completely leave the aisle and she ignored a whispered objection more adamant as heads turned, putting herself forward as she never did except for communion.
It wasn’t her intention to be seen reverent in the ritual of silk and linen vestments and covers, golden chalice, paten and tall tapers, or kneeling nearer the graceful pain of the crucifixion, to be overheard less than fluent in echoes of Latin. She sat back and it was obvious why she was there: not for the usual madrigalists shielding the altar and taking direction from the pulpit, but an almost heretical performance in the small gilded gallery to her left, a stone rolled away, resurrection in the pleasured expression of strings and a man to whom every passion was necessary.
It wasn’t the place for bows except in prayer. Signor Stradella’s attention soon moved to the young lady by his side who had sung with sweetness, not strength.
On the way home one of the better houses was inviting. Despina sent her niece on, Donatella only minding the weight of her veil and skirt in the May shower that wasn’t unexpected either.
She didn’t turn around.
By the time she hurried across the via Luccoli to face Saint George and the courage she lacked, the pavement was steaming and her resolve changing as quickly as the weather. Signor Stradella pushed the gate for her to go first, his rain-scented shrewdness surrounding her as he opened the front door.
“My aunt will be home soon.”
“Ah. We have a secret.” He slid his violin case from under his coat. At least they weren’t alone in the house, Cook singing without Despina there to mind, and Nonna calling. He tapped Donatella’s arm and asked how the assignment was coming along.
“Bravissima. Let me see.”
“We could use the breakfast room.”
“Or less prudenza.”
Nonna just wanted to know she was back. “And Signore Stradella?”
“I haven’t seen him today.”
“I think you have.”
“Well, for a moment—”
“In the rain?”
“Oh. I should change.”
“No. You look as you must,” her grandmother smacked her lips, “caught off guard.”
Besides the folder of music, Donatella carried up a tray of limonata and anise cake, another of Nonna’s suggestions.
She smelled a candle burning, but it didn’t light the short hall. In the main room a window was open, with the settee moved closer to it, Signor Stradella a masterpiece resting there. One dark leg was stretched and falling over the back of the couch, a ruffled hand on its knee; the other bent to the floor and, even without stocking and shoe, appeared ready to walk away. He had also undressed to his shirt still buttoned high and wrinkled softly because it was made of the finest linen. A slight breeze blew his hair over his face. As he realized her burdened entrance, his right shoulder pillowed a half-smile and he reached out lazily.
“Did you bring bavareisa?”
“What’s that?” She clumsily laid the tray down on the gray marble hearth, not wanting to bend with her back to him.
“Cioccolata and caffè.”
“We don’t have coffee. It’s too expensive.”
“I’ll pay for it.” He swung into sitting, hunched and rubbing his neck. “I’m getting one of my headaches.”
“It’s the weather.” Donatella offered him a drink.
He accepted it, the tips of his fingers friendlier than they should have been. “A veil over the sun, like a woman at Messa.” He tasted it. “Ah. Fresco.”
“Squeezed this morning. Nonna says it’s good for clearing the voice.”
“Cara Nònna.” He raised his glass, then emptied it with a kiss on its rim. “I’ve heard she was very rebellious. I wonder you didn’t become the same.”
“I wasn’t meant to.”
“How do you know?”
“Because it didn’t happen.”
She was still holding the folder.
“I believe that’s why you’ve come?”
He moved slowly to make space on the table where his inventions were layered and sprawled, so many at once. By the time she placed the copy there he was sitting once more, leaning forward, his head in his hands.
“You can let me know.” She felt intrusive. “I’ve never seen you at Maddalena before.”
He rose, admitting his rudeness. “I was testing the sound for a wedding there.”
“It must be a special one.”
“Ah. I’ll make it so.” His teeth showed. “Così.” He leaned over the table, the side of his face long and angled, eyelashes still and mouth taut, the first page flipped for the second, the second for the third, every one after that as unremarkable.
He looked at the first page again, his index finger, chin, and muted hum following the stanzas. “Ah. You see. Just a little more space here and this note a little higher, the words not quite aligned.”
Her hope of impressing him was gone.
“No, no.” He showed sensitivity to being misunderstood. “Even my last copyist, a priest, cursed my sloppiness.”
“I did my best.”
“Ah. Anyway, there are many arie in the serenata, besides duetti and trii and sinfonie. I need copies of each by—you saw the date; barely a month away. Before that for rehearsal.” He closed the folder, falling back on the settee. “And only so-called musicisti in Genova, too quick or too slow or distracted by ambizione. Will you do more for me?”
She had to consider. His reputation. Her motivation. She couldn’t sign her name to the work, freely spend any payment, or even show some pride. Sneaking around, her aunt would eventually find out and put a stop to it anyway.
“Is that cake?”
“For the flies?”
“Oh.” She rescued the plate.
He took a slice, eating it almost without chewing. “As we live dangerously opening windows.” He reached for another, nodding for her to take what was left.
“All right,” she answered.
“I mean ... I will help you.”
“Oh, yes.” She broke a corner of the last piece on the plate.